I really like O. at the age and size he is right now. Even though he's getting harder and harder to carry up and down the steps, which he occasionally still likes for me to do, I have loved seeing my first baby turn into a real boy right in front of my eyes. He's just old enough to manage lots of things on his own, but young enough to still want to cuddle when he first wakes up, and to run straight to me for solve-everything hugs. However, I certainly wouldn't want him to stay this age forever.
Every age that my children become helps me meet a new part of the people they are becoming. It's amazing to compare them to pictures at the same time last year and see all the ways the babies in them have slipped so imperceptibly off their frames. I look at those old pictures, and feel a pang of nostalgia for each of those old stages, but then remember the parts of them I didn't yet know. So, in many ways, I welcome the fact that they grow up so quickly.
In fact, wouldn't it be nice to skip right over the "I don't know how to communicate, so I'll just throw myself on the floor and wail" phase, or the "I'm figuring out that you can't make me do what I don't want to do, so I'll just refuse to do it until you scream like a crazy lady and scare the hell out of me" phase?
My son, however, has decided he's just fine with staying just this size forever. Last week, as I put him to bed, we had this conversation:
"Mommy, when I grow up, and move away, will you miss me?" he asked.
"Well, yes, I probably will," I replied.
"When do I get to be a little boy again?" he asked.
Not quite sure what he meant by this, I told him he already was a little boy.
"No, but after I grow, do I get to shrink down to be little again?"
"Well, no, you don't, bud. Once you grow, you never go back to the sizes you were before. That's just not how growing up works."
"But when I was throwing up, I shrank then."
"Yes, you're right, you did shrink a little then, but only because you lost some weight. But your body knows that it needs to stay big, so it gains that weight right back. That's why you eat good food to help your body stay strong and grow bigger," I told him.
"I don't want to eat any more food. Because I want to just stay little."
"If you didn't eat food, you would get very sick, and have to go to the hospital, and I wouldn't want you to feel sick. Besides, you don't have to worry about getting bigger."
"But when I get bigger, will I have to get a new bed? Because I like my bed."
"You don't have to get a new bed if you don't want to. You can keep this bed as long as you want."
At this point, he started to cry, with real, big fat tears.
"Oh, buddy, what's the problem?"
"I don't want to move away from here! I will miss Charlie too much!"
"Oh, my boy. You can stay in our house as long as you want to, and you can take Charlie anywhere you go, anytime you want." I was so desperate to reassure him that I tried not to worry about the thirty year old freeloader version of him that may someday throw this promise back in my face when I tried to kick him out of our basement.
This seemed to calm him, as the next question out of his mouth involved why the puffer fish is called a puffer fish.
It came up again early this week when we were stuck in yet another dinnertime battle. We try hard not to create conflict over food, but sincerely worry that he does not eat nearly enough. I made the mistake of mentioning again that the doctor said he needs to eat good healthy food so he can grow big and strong, and he replied that he wasn't eating anymore, because he did not want to grow anymore.
It would be easy to be flattered that my son simply wants to always be with me, or to be concerned that he's got some underlying fear of growth and maturity, of transitioning to new stages. I don't think it's that simple. I think it has more to do with the intensity with which my son, and perhaps all children, experience the world. I once read some research that suggested that children are constantly experiencing the kind of thrills that many adults seek out in the form of skydiving, whitewater rafting, and global travel. The researcher proposed that the thrill comes not from the potential risk or danger of such activities, but rather the newness inherent in them. We are anxious to recapture that sensation of stepping outside what we know to experience something novel. For children, this sensation is just part of meeting the next morning.
Perhaps this is why our children cling to routine. So many parts of their world move so quickly, and so much of their memory is lost forever to them, only available through the pictures or stories that are shown and told to them. It must be a frightening place to live sometimes, trapped in the only present they know, with so much of the future ahead and uncertain, and so much new knowledge just waiting for them to ask about. I might be tempted to stay right in my own bed with the stuffed friends I know and love forever as well.
I'm trying not to make too big a deal out of this exchange and this current concern of my son's. I'm not truly worried that he's going to start starving himself, or be stuck with Peter Pan syndrome permanently. Rather, I'm fascinated with the way his mind works, and have to remind myself sometimes to stop and think about why he says the things he does. These are the moments I'm glad to stop and savor, to not skip over.